California Sen. Ricardo Lara recently introduced SB 1174, a bill effectively repealing 1998’s ban on bilingual education in the state. He hopes that by returning Spanish back into the classroom, the education levels of foreign born students will rise up to the levels of their English speaking counterparts and increase the overall level of education throughout the state. The new proposal would give parents the choice of enrolling their kid in a bi-lingual educational program.
Recognizing The Situation
As a parent in Southern California, this makes a lot of sense. As the state becomes increasingly Hispanic, our kids will need to know Spanish in order to thrive. Lara said, “English will always remain the official language of California, but we cannot ignore the growing need to have a multilingual workforce.”
Ignoring The Situation
Up until 1998, California enjoyed a multilingual curriculum that encouraged students to learn in their native tongues as they transitioned to an English based curriculum. This did not sit well with resident millionaire and conservative ideologue Ron Unz, who stood unfounded in a belief that English immersion was the best way to assimilate Spanish speaking students. Unz, who admitted never having experienced a bilingual classroom, financed most of the campaign for the 1998 Prop 227 which effectively eliminated bilingual studies in California, setting up Hispanic students up for failure.
A Balanced Approach
This sink or swim approach ignores that despite the ban, the education gap either increased between whites and hispanics or remained static. As Bruce Fuller states, evidence suggests that English immersion often undermines their current knowledge base and alienates them from their native language, making them less receptive to education in general and more likely to drop out of high school. However, when a teacher can connect with students in their language, they are encouraged and understand the material far better. Furthermore, the most recent studies demonstrate that multicultural students actually increase their skill levels and reading comprehension levels in a bilingual setting. This helps all of our children equally.
Thriving On Diversity
By accommodating the Hispanic student body, we take advantage of their current skills in math, science, and reading comprehension in a language that is comfortable. As these foundations are built upon in their native tongue, they can develop a full academic understanding and transition those skills into English.
English speaking students like mine will benefit from understanding their fellow classmates’ native tongue, reducing the feelings of being left out as the minority becomes the majority. They will also be able to communicate outside of the class, build a stronger community and establish multicultural ties. Not only that, but it has been shown that students who are fluent in multiple languages outperform other students and children who are encouraged to learn in their native tongue as well and English are five times as likely to close education gaps in school .
To illustrate this point, Shelly Spiegel-Coleman, executive director of Californians Together said this:
“Becoming biliterate will not only give students a valuable 21st century skill, but also celebrate diversity and multiculturalism and recognize that languages are an asset to our nation and society.”